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SQ 744 will wreak havoc on road funding

SQ 744 will wreak havoc on road funding

Note from TRUST Executive Director, Crystal Drwenski

September 24, 2009

This week, during a House interim study, State Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley was asked to present to the House Appropriations & Budget Committee the effects of an anticipated $42 million cut to the department of transportation should State Question 744 pass in the 2010 general election.

SQ 744 is an attempt by the Oklahoma Education Association to remove the state legislature’s authority to appropriate and determine education spending levels. Instead it would impose a constitutional mandate that would require spending levels to be raised to the "per pupil" average of surrounding states, regardless of the Oklahoma’s economic health. By the OEA's own numbers this would cost Oklahoma taxpayers an additional $850 million during the nation’s worst economic recession in decades.

Because the state question does not identify a revenue source to fund the tax increase, state lawmakers in charge of budgeting are grappling with possible scenarios to pay for the mandate should SQ 744 pass. 

House fiscal staff prepared an analysis that showed income or sales tax rates would have to be raised by more than 30%, or all other state agencies outside of common education would have to endure a 20% across-the-board cut.   

When you consider the fact taxes cannot be raised in Oklahoma without a two-thirds majority of the legislature or by a vote of the people this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to increase taxes, which makes funding cuts the more likely scenario.

Secretary Ridley provided information to the committee detailing the department would likely not move forward with issuing the $150 million in bonds the legislature authorized in 2008, because the funding cut would render the department unable to service the debt on those bonds.

Additionally, because the department must address the cut of $42 million annually over the life of the eight-year construction work plan, the total cost to state road and bridge funding was estimated at $395 million – equivalent to a 25% cut of all state funds dedicated to highway construction.

When asked by committee members the safety ramifications to Oklahoma drivers, the secretary said it was difficult to estimate due to many wrecks being attributable to driver error.  However, he said many worn-out roads and bridges lack improved safety features that save lives. 

For example, for the last several years Oklahoma has averaged about 35 to 36 crossover fatalities a year.  But thanks to additional funding made possible by the Oklahoma Legislature the transportation department has made it a priority to place cable barriers and medians in “high-incident” corridors.  The result?  For the first nine months of this year Oklahoma has only had eight crossover fatalities.

Beginning next year, TRUST intends to play a significant, vocal role in opposing SQ 744 for the fiscal health and betterment of our entire state.  While we all desire good schools and quality education for our children, we live in a modest state with finite resources.  In these shaky economic times this initiative will prove disastrous not just for roads, but for all areas essential to good state government. 

 

 

 

 

 

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